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The Atomic Bomb, the Word of God, and Speculations about Anxiety

By February 1, 2016 No Comments

by Rebecca Koerselman

Today is Caucus Day in Iowa and I keep hearing about the significance of anxiety for many Americans. If one listens to political pundits, it seems as if the candidate who best understands this anxiety and how to soothe it will receive the most votes.

Is this a time of “absolute confessed insecurity” in our world?

Many people think the world is becoming a pretty terrible place. As a historian, I cannot help but notice that humankind has regularly commented on the overwhelming evil in the world and wondered if this was the end or the beginning of the end.

This semester I am teaching an upper level seminar about the creation of the atomic bomb and the development of a nuclear culture. We spend the bulk of the semester studying the development and use of the first atomic weapons along with the Cold War and nuclear arms race. Toward the end of the semester, we explore the ending of the Cold War, the use of atomic energy and nuclear power, and ideas about nuclear terrorism.

As I researched and prepared for the course, I was struck by the response of non-Christians to the use of the atomic bomb. Many scientists, physicists, leaders, and intellectuals were troubled by the use of this ferocious weapon. They understood that if the scientific methodology of nuclear fission was successful, it could certainly be used for positive good. But they also understood the first real use of nuclear fission was to create the world’s most destructive bomb to end World War II in the Pacific. According to Henry DeWolf Smyth, chair of physics at Princeton University at that time, “as to the future, one may guess that technical development will take place along two lines. From the military view, it is reasonably certain that there will be developments both in the processes of producing fissionable material and in its use…Should a scheme be devised for converting to energy even as much as a few percent of the matter of some common material, civilization would have the means to commit suicide at will.”*

I was also struck by Christian responses to the use of atomic weapons. Wilbur Moorehead Smith wrote a small booklet entitled, The Atomic Bomb and the Word of God, published by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago in October of 1945, just a few months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. I particularly noticed his words concerning the end of the world and the role of Christians.

There never has been a time when the thoughts of men have been so convulsed as now. There never has been a time when those things which we considered abidingly permanent we realize can suddenly be destroyed. Now we know that it is possible for the energy of the simplest things about us, as water or air, to be used for the total destruction of our earth. In such a time of absolute confessed insecurity on the part of all world leaders, we should remember the words in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it actually speaks of the trembling of the earth and the heaven and ‘the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain.’ What are the things not shaken: the fact of God, the fact of the incarnation of Christ, the fact that sins can be washed away in the blood of the Lamb of God, the fact of peace that passeth all understanding which we have, being justified by faith, the fact of the human soul, the realities of right and wrong, the certainty of judgment to come, the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. These cannot be shaken. If one has them, then one possesses the things that remain. If one does not, then the dawn of such an age as the atomic age means the very dissolution of the foundations of life. ‘Wherefore,’ says the same writer, ‘receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God, with reverence (or godly fear) and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.’ Hebrews 12:27-29.**

Does the world feel “convulsed”? Is this a time of “absolute confessed insecurity”?
In times of a shaken world: evil, strife, and despair, what remains unshaken for you?
If you are part of an unshakable kingdom, how have you demonstrated grace and service?

*Henry DeWolf Smyth, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, U.S Government publication, 1945, 224. Republished in 1945 by Princeton University Press.
**Wilbur M. Smith, The Atomic Bomb and the Word of God, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1945, 24.

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

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